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"Stolen" ideas

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Joined: 08/03/2008

One of the most frequently asked questions by new designers is "how do I protect my ideas from being stolen?" It can come as a surprise to realize that it's not that uncommon for different designers to come up with very similar mechanics.

To prove this, I thought it might be fun to start a thread in which we could post anecdotes about coming up with a mechanic and then subsequently finding a very similar mechanic in a published game.

I have two examples that I can think of immediately, but I'm pretty sure there have been others.

One of my earliest designs was a game in which players were officials in a government. Each turn a set of "problems" would confront the nation, and players would play character cards who could solve the problem. For example, if the problem is "war", the "general" card would be the strongest solution. But each problem also had two characters who could "support" the solution. Shortly after coming up with this idea, I learned about the game "Krieg und Frieden", which has a virtually identical system. There are four different problems, and four different resources, and for each problem, each resource has a rating between 1-4. So for "War", "Knights" are very useful, but they're less useful if the problem is "taxes", for example.

Another example is my GDW archaeology game, "Profit and Provenance". In that game, I was exploring a concept of "semi-blind bidding", since blind bidding games like Aladin's Dragons were popular at the time. I came up with a system whereby the backprinting on each card partially telegraphs its value -- the cards were valued between 0-8, and each card had between 1 and 3 coin symbols on the back, with the number of coins corresponding to the possible value of the card. The game "Maya" came out a few months later, and it had almost exactly the same bidding system, with exactly the same denominations and nomenclature! It was really an amazing coincidence.

Some more general examples include "Shadows over Camelot", which, like my GDW game "Disciples" has a traitor mechanic, and "Karibik", which, like my pirate themed game, gives all players access to all pirate ship (instead of each player having his own). But these similarities are much more general; the ones above were much more uncanny.

Please share if you have similar examples!


Joined: 12/31/1969
"Stolen" ideas

My first game was a city building game. The only "designer" games I knew by this point were Settlers of Catan and Cosmic Encounter.

For my city building I came up with the idea that the buildings would be respresented by tiles. The great novel idea I had was that the game didn't need a board, you just placed the tiles on the table next to eachother to form a city. I was certain that this was a totally original idea.

A week later somebody introduced me to Carcassonne.

sedjtroll's picture
Joined: 07/21/2008
"Stolen" ideas

Outside of game design, I have 3 similar stories of uncanny coincidences...

1. When I was a kid, my sister and I had skateboards. We didn't really use them much, but one thing I did was take one, put it under the other upside down and rotated 90 degrees, sat on the first and steered with the second by pulling up on the wheels. I also watched a lot of TV when I was young, and one show I watched was something about inventions. On that show, there was a sort of skateboard with 'wings' which had handles on them, that operated exactly as my makeshift one did. Obviously I didn't see this show until well after I had played with the skateboards, or this would be a lousy example of a coincidence ;)

2. When I was a kid, I used to go to Skate Country and rollerskate. This was before Rollerblades were a big deal, and I had never heard of one. At some point I said (out loud even) "Someone should take rollerskates and put the wheels in 1 row, like ice skates!"

3. This is my favorite. When I was probably a teenager, probably about the same time I was watching the show about inventions, I thought of an interesting idea to "camouflage" a tank... Suppose you have a camera on one side of the tank, and a TV on the other. In theory you could videotape whatever's 'behind' and project it to the TV. Obviously this would look pretty silly, a TV driving down the road or whatever. But then you could make it better and better by using lots of small cameras and lots of small screens... etc. I figured it would look sorta like in that movie Predator when the guy is sorta invisible.

Something like 15 years later, I go see Die Another Day in the theater. There's a scene where Q brings out 007's car on a train thing, and you can't see anything. Q explains that the car featured Active Camouflage... "Austin Martin calls it the Vanquish, we call it the Vanish. Thousands of tiny cameras on one side of the vehicle project an image on the other side, rendering the car invisible."

Regarding game design, just recently I implimented a VP system for Terra Prime because earning money in the game when someone used your colony proved to be too unbalancing. So instead I added a VP track, and players now earn 1 VP if someone else uses their colony to upgrade their ship or pick up resources. The VP track also made it easier to count points than having to count it all at the end.

This was NOT inspired by Caylus, wherein players build buildings, and when someone uses teir building they get 1 VP.

slam's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
"Stolen" ideas

I sent some copies of my games to Mr. Tom Vasel in South Korea for review. They haven't appeared in his written reviews yet, but I discovered that they reviewed The Marble Game in Dice Tower #35 (thanks Tom).

Oddly enough, Dice Tower #39 contained a review of Darter, which they noted on the show uses many of the exact same mechanics as The Marble Game. The idea of both game is the same: There are objects that move inexorably forward, and you can put pieces on the playing field that direct them towards a goal. There are plenty of differences, of course. The Marble Game is played on a hex field, Darter is played on a chessboard that wraps from one side to the opposite side.

But, here's an instance of two designers who took the same basic mechanic and used them to make games almost simultaneously. I haven't played Darter, and so I can't say whether one is "better" than the other. I will note that the Marble Game is half as expensive, however.

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